Criticism of French Prime Minister Francois Fillon for disparaging comments he made about the Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter of animals has led him to backtrack, meeting with leaders from both faiths.
French Prime Minister Francois Fillon was to meet with Muslim leaders on Thursday to address controversy surrounding his public criticism of the ritual slaughter of animals for kosher and halal meat.
Fillon's meeting with the Muslim community comes a day after he met with Jewish leaders on the issue, attempting to assure them that he did not foresee banning halal and kosher slaughter practices in France.
Speaking to Europe 1 radio on Tuesday, Fillon referred to the Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter as "ancestral traditions" that were "outdated."
"Religions should think about keeping traditions that don't have much in common with today's state of science, technology and health problems," he said.
His comments followed a call by President Nicolas Sarkozy for meat labels to say whether an animal was stunned before being slaughtered, according to EU guidelines to minimize pain, or if it was conscious when its throat was cut, as is required for halal and kosher meat.
Fillon on Wednesday met with French Grand Rabbi Gilles Bernheim and Paris Central Consistory President Joel Mergui, who said the prime minister "clearly explained that he understood we were hurt," and "explained very clearly that there was no intention to question ritual slaughter in France."
Wooing right-wing voters
Tensions between French nationalists and the country's five million Muslims have been on display in the run-up to presidential elections in April and May, as Sarkozy tries to attract far-right voters who oppose immigration and concessions to the Muslim community.
Sarkozy said on Tuesday that France had "too many foreigners" and that the government "can no longer manage to find them accommodation, a job, a school," calling for the number of immigrants per year to be cut in half.
Socialist challenger to Sarkozy Francois Hollande has proposed more generous policies toward immigrants, including giving foreign nationals who have lived legally in France for five years the right to vote in municipal elections.
Polls give Hollande a significant advantage over Sarkozy, in both the first round of voting on April 22 and the potential run-off scheduled for May 6.
acb/pfd (AP, AFP, Reuters)